Does Checking Your Credit Score Lower It? | Credit Cards

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There’s a persistent myth that checking your credit score damages your credit. You’ll be happy to know that checking your credit score doesn’t lower it. In fact, keeping tabs on your credit status helps you make more informed money decisions.

Sometimes, checking your credit score is lumped in with reviewing your credit report under the umbrella term, “checking your credit.” But checking your score and reviewing your report are two different actions.

Credit Report vs. Credit Score

There are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you’ve had credit-related accounts that report your payment history, you have a credit report at one or more of the bureaus. Your credit report shows your accounts, balances, payment history, identifying information and any negative items, such as a late payment, that you might have.

Your credit score is not listed on your credit report. So, when you check your score, that’s not related to checking your reports. All three major credit bureaus collect information about your payment history from lenders. When a lender requests your credit score from a bureau, the bureau uses the data in that credit report and applies the requested scoring algorithm to generate a score.

Note that some of your lenders may report to only one or two of the bureaus. This is why your credit score may vary from bureau to bureau. There are also different versions of scores, and although the factors used might be similar, they’re often weighted differently.

You can review your federally authorized free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Beginning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus started giving free weekly credit report access. In September 2023 they made that weekly free access permanent.

Unless something unusual is going on in your life, such as a contentious divorce, you don’t need to look at your reports every week. Take a look at one of your reports every four months or so. Errors do occur on credit reports, and sometimes it’s the type of error that can lower your credit score.

Take the time to monitor your reports and make sure the data is accurate. Also, look for accounts listed that you didn’t open. This can be a sign of fraud and identity theft. If you suspect you’re a victim of fraud, you need to take action right away to limit the damage.

Bottom line: You can check your credit reports as well as your credit score without damaging your credit. If you’re wondering where to find your score, you don’t have to look very hard these days.

How to Find Your Credit Score

There are two main credit scoring systems, FICO and VantageScore. Each system has a number of different scoring algorithms a lender can request to see. Most lenders use a version of the FICO score when you apply for credit, but there’s still value in keeping tabs on your VantageScore if that’s the free score you have access to.

Here’s why it’s important to know what type of score you’re viewing: Even though FICO and VantageScore have the same 300-850 range, they weigh the factors differently, so you can’t compare the two scores directly. Most of the sources for free credit scores highlight the type of score they provide, but sometimes you have to look for it on the provider’s website.

I wasn’t kidding when I said free scores are easy to find. Here’s a partial list of sources for a free score:

  • Credit cards. You probably have access to a free score from one or more of your card issuers. Most major issuers and banks now offer free credit scores at least monthly along with your credit card statement. And there are a few issuers that offer free scores to those who aren’t cardholders.
  • Credit score apps. It’s easy to track your credit score using free credit score apps. Some of these apps offer premium versions, but in most cases, the basic free version should meet your needs.
  • Websites that offer free credit scores. Many of these sites also provide an unofficial credit report. Even if you aren’t looking at a FICO score, you get valuable information about your credit. Many show a grade for different factors that can affect your credit score. For instance, you might get an “A” for payment history if you’ve been using credit responsibly and paying bills on time. If your payment history is an issue, though, you might get a “C” or a “D” in that category.

How Do Credit Inquiries Affect Your Credit Score?

Understanding how inquiries impact your credit score will help you make more informed credit decisions. There are two types of inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries.

An example of a hard inquiry, also called a hard pull, is when you apply for a new credit card. The issuer will request your credit report and either your FICO or VantageScore credit score from one (or more) of the credit bureaus. This type of inquiry can lower your score anywhere from zero to five points.

A soft inquiry, also called a soft pull, doesn’t lower your credit score. Examples of soft inquiries include checking your own credit score or credit report. Soft inquiries have no impact on your credit score at all. Both FICO and VantageScore versions ignore soft inquiries, but both score versions do include hard inquiries in credit score calculations.

If you apply for credit, you’ll see a hard credit inquiry on your credit report. Credit inquiries stay on your report for two years, but the FICO score algorithm only includes hard inquiries made within the past 12 months.

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